Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Take -> NFC Divisional Playoffs

Greetings, G-Force.

It was emphatic. It was commanding. It was convincing. Over the last 25 years, when the Green Bay Packers weren't winning Super Bowls in the playoffs, they've dealt with playoff heartbreak. They've been losses that lingered painfully into the summer months. Twice, those losses have come at the hands of the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. This years Wild Card contest wasn't about to be the third time that Eli Manning walked into Lambeau and left victorious. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Wild Card Weekend in Titletown, U.S.A. appeared to be rowdy. It looked like a celebration that could propel the Packers onto another rival that destroyed playoff runs in 1993, 1994 and 1995. We found revenge against the G-Men. It's now time to do the same to the Cowboys in Dallas.

When you see as much live music as I do, you occasionally encounter nights where the music lives within you for an extended period of time. For me, seeing Railroad Earth on 1/17/14 was one of those nights. It was a magical night in Denver. They were on point. The crowd was on fire. The music was magic. Well, as I write, I'm reliving that night as I listen to the recording of the show. I sip a New Holland Dragon's Milk that was brewed on 8/31/15. Most Bourbon Barrel Stouts I'd prefer to have a little age on. They're often brewed too hot. This one measures in at 11% ABV. It's billed as having "roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath." I've always felt like it had a chocolate backbone to it. With the vanilla introduced heavily at the front. With the age, I'm having a hard time finding the chocolate. Seems like it's left. The bourbon still lives on. I'm fond.

Here are my quick vibes from the last week:

* Mike McCarthy. Most will remember McCarthy's boneheaded decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from his own 42 with a 14-6 lead as his defining moment. Not me. Even though I firmly disagreed with the decision, I'll never complain when McCarthy is aggressive. An aggressive Mike McCarthy is a good Mike McCarthy. Granted, there's a difference between being aggressive and being smart and the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 was flat-out stupid. Nonetheless, McCarthy rallied. He kept his team focused. As the dictator of the offense's design, he led 4 more drives. The results: 4 plays, 63 yards and a Packers TD; 5 plays, 23 yards and a Packers FG; 10 plays, 80 yards and a Packers TD; 9 plays, 55 yards and a Packers TD. Mike McCarthy is in a play calling rhythm.

* Quick asterisk: Last week, I had a major typo. I accidentally wrote this: "Want to see a stat that is bursting with goodness? Here's how hard it is to win in the NFL: there are 4 coaches in the HISTORY of the NFL who have guided their teams to 4 consecutive playoff berths. Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy. Packers fans, don't ignore Mike McCarthy's greatness. That's esteemed company. Hall of Fame company." It's not 4 consecutive playoff berths. McCarthy has been to 8 consecutive playoff berths. I'll make the change in my previous blog. But, to highlight, that's 8 consecutive playoff seasons with Mike McCarthy as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers. That's good stuff.

* Aaron Rodgers. What a rebound! The Packers will only go as far as Aaron Rodgers will lead them. If he plays as he did for the first 26 minutes of the game, the Packers will be eliminated. But, if Rodgers plays as he did over the last 34 minutes, the Green Bay Packers will be tough to defeat. Rodgers has been patient, he's been precise, he's seeing the field well and he has his mobility. When those things are in play, the Packers are as good as any team in the NFL.

* Get well, Jordy. Hurry back. We need you.

* CHRISTINE MICHAEL! What a spark! Adding a burst. Bringing a bounce to the Packers offense at a time when it needed to be uplifted. He also added goodness to the Packers special teams units. Christine Michael needs to be a Packer next year as well.

* Ty Montgomery. 68 yards on 14 touches. 4.85 yards per touch. Guy is a weapon. Keep on feeding him.

* RIP! He's sure handed as a receiver. And, love seeing him punch it into the end zone near the goal line.

* Jared Cook. What a mismatch. Had Rodgers hit him in stride on the opening possession, it's possible that Cook might've had an 86-yard TD. Amazingly, I get the feeling that there are packages designed for Cook that we've yet to see. We haven't seen him streaking down the middle of the field a whole lot. Especially out of a three point stance. I wonder if that's coming up this week.

* Davante Adams! Another big week for the youngster. I'll never understand why CB's don't jam him at the line of scrimmage on every play. When he gets a free release, Adams has a shake to him that'll set him free against any CB in the NFL. But, when he's jammed off his spot, he can be quick to give up. When Adams got the free release on the opening play of the first TD drive, Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm. After that play, the Giants never had hope.

* Randall Cobb. He's back. With a vengeance! Grand to see the lil' guy come down with the magical HAIL MARY! The play of the weekend. The type of play that could live in Packers legend forever if the Packers can continue to walk away victorious. Cobb was matched against a back-up CB for most of the second half. When that's the case, Cobb will win that battle every time. Especially if he's given a free release off of the line of scrimmage.

* The Green Bay Packers OL has to be revved up for this weekends battle. They are outright dominant. They're a steady pass protecting wall. It's widely assumed that Dallas has the best OL in football. I hope the Packers OL proves otherwise this weekend. They were fantastic against the Giants.

* The Packers need more from Clay Matthews. Sure the sack, forced fumble, super hustle, fumble recovery play was glorious. It was vintage Clay. But, too often, he was dancing with the OT. He needs to be the aggressor. Play in and play out.

* Julius Peppers wants a ring. We have to get him one. He's fresh for the stretch run. And, he's playing with an edge. 1 sack. 1 tackle for loss. 2 QB knockdowns. 2 passes defensed.

* When Mike Daniels is constantly winning his 1 on 1 battle, no one is going to run on the Green Bay Packers. Daniels was fierce early in the game vs the Giants.

* Really solid game by Jake Ryan. He was active. He was a sure tackler. 3 passes defensed. Has to be a career high for him.

* Another really impressive game by Joe Thomas. He's really emerged as the season has progressed. He needs to continue to see playing time.

* Jordan Tripp has been a really nice special teams addition. He's smart. Has a chip to him. Have the feeling he could force a turnover on special teams before the year is over.

* Jeff Janis looked explosive as a KR.

* Huge kick by Mason Crosby to extend to a 2-score lead.

* Jacob Schum with a really strong day punting the football.

* I've been saying it weekly, but Micah Hyde is going to make a huge play as a PR.

* CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVE. Long time followers know my take on this. 14:33 left in the game. The Packers take over at their own 20. 80 yards from victory. 10 plays. 80 yards. 5:14 off of the clock. Play of the drive: 3rd & 10 from their own 30. McCarthy splits Montgomery wide right. Presumably, the Giants expected him to be in the backfield. Montgomery comes on an underneath route. Adams sets a "pick" on the CB covering Montgomery. Montgomery catches the pass in stride and jets up the field for 34 yards. Twice more on the drive, Rodgers connects on 3rd down, including the 3rd and 3 16-yard strike to Cobb for the dagger. Championship teams drive home that drive for the TD. The Packers did just that.

* As I've been saying for weeks, this Packers team doesn't need to win with defense. This defense can bend, but it can't break. We were fortunate over the first 23 minutes of the game. It could've easily been 21-0. But, the Giants didn't finish. And, the Packers defense kept a sputtering Packers offense in the game. In addition, this Packers defense needs to force a turnover or two a game and they need to get the occasional 3rd down sack. Against the Giants, they forced two turnovers and grabbed two sacks. If they can do that weekly, we'll be in position to win every game.

* 7 in a row! Ain't it sweet when everything comes together?

* The Lambeau crowd was terrific. If you were in attendance, pat yourself on the back. You made a difference!

* If you're like me, you've probably watched the HAIL MARY thirty times or more. But, the clip that is tear jerking for me is to see the little boys jubilation in the front row of the end zone. Who is that little guy? I want to send him a Packers gift. He was stoked. He literally almost brought a tear to my eye when I saw the replay during halftime with him in the background jumping for joy. That - to me - is the beauty of the purity of sports and why I revel in the life of being an ultimate fan.

This week - it's the Cowboys. In my life, the Packers and the Cowboys have played in the playoffs in 1982, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 2014. Every time the home team has won. Sounds bad - except we must remember that the Packers won the XLV trophy in Dallas. They have confidence walking into this Stadium. The Packers believe that they have command over Jerry's Dome. Now, we must prove it on Divisional Playoff weekend. The Divisional Playoffs are my favorite football weekend of the year. It's fitting that the cap to the weekend will be Green Bay at Dallas. Two of the most storied franchises in football getting ready to duke it out on Sunday afternoon. For a date in the NFC Championship. Let's party!

The Cowboys present match-up issues for the Packers. Dez Bryant is a head case, but he's also a phenomenal football player. Terrance Williams runs a slant route as well as anyone in the game and he's lethal after the catch. Cole Beasley is a star as a slot WR. Brice Butler gets no props, but he can run a go route and get off the line of scrimmage like a first-class WR. Jason Witten can't move very well anymore, but he still knows how to sit in the zone and he's a 6th OL as a blocker. Gavin Escobar can stretch the middle of the field. Zeke Elliott has masterful vision. He's the best one-cut RB in the game. He wants the ball. He gets better as the game goes on. Alfred Morris is a terrific back-up RB who knows how to get 1st downs in short yardage situations. Darren McFadden is fresh and ready to make an impact. He can still hit the hole with conviction. Lance Dunbar is an average 3rd down receiving RB. The Cowboys OL doesn't have a weakness. They wear you down. They beat you up. They beg for you to say mercy. They dominate games. And, often, the Cowboys win in the 4th Quarter as their OL has completely defeated the oppositions DL. LG, Ronald Leary is the worst of the 5-man wrecking crew. Dak Prescott. What a gamer. A rook who plays like a veteran. He handles play-action as well as anyone in the league. And, his mobility is tough to prepare for. He's tough, he's athletic. He wins. And, he takes care of the football. Annoying.

Defensively, the Cowboys get all of their players back. Tyrone Crawford returns. As does Morris Claiborne. They've been a defense that has given up yards, but they've been opportunistic. They battle you. They outwork you. They out hustle you. They rotate their defensive line extensively to try and keep their line fresh. I imagine that the Packers will be thinking that they can get a couple of free plays out of the Cowboys substitution patterns. Or, in a worst case scenario, the Packers should be able to force Dallas to burn a timeout or two by hurrying to the line of scrimmage. Tyrone Crawford isn't a superstar, but he gives maximum effort. Every time I watch David Irving, he's making a big play. Like every single game, Irving seems to make a game-altering play. Maliek Collins has all kinds of talent. When the effort is there, Collins wins. Demarcus Lawrence isn't overpowering nor overly quick, but he's savvy. And, he grinds to find his way to disrupt plays. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are athletic LB's who play very well in space. Sean Lee has been healthy. He's the glue to the Dallas defense. He is a machine. Dallas has good versatility in the secondary. Brandon Carr is a physical CB. He'll use his hands. If the game is called tightly, he'll be called for a penalty or two. If they let the CB's play, Carr will pester the Packers WR's. Morris Claiborne will have to knock off the rust, but when he's up for the task, he lives up to his 1st round billing. Byron Jones can play either CB or S. Orlando Scandoick can either play the slot CB or he can drop as a S. Barry Church is a S who can also cover in the slot. JJ Wilcox is a nice dime defender who is best when he's used as an in-the-box safety.

Dan Bailey is a fantastic kicker. Lucky Whitehead is an ok PR. Don't be surprised if the Packers force him to fumble this week. Just a gut feeling.

Look for the Cowboys defense to aggressively come after Rodgers. They'll blitz early. They'll blitz often. Expect Rodgers to utilize the check-down. 10 yards at a time. Montgomery has a big game catching the ball. Taking what the defense gives the Packers. Rodgers sticks with the underneath routes early. The Packers also go with the run game early to try and soften the pressuring Cowboys defense. The Dallas defense pesters the athletic Packers offense.

In theory, Dallas could run the ball 45 times. Keep Rodgers off the field. Beat up the Packers at the line of scrimmage. Make it tough for the Packers to slow them down. Even on 3rd & 7, Dallas could consider it a run down. They're that much more powerful than the Packers. But, Jason Garrett is too bullheaded. He'll want to show flair. He'll try to throw the football. And, oddly, I have a feeling that the Packers secondary will show up.

It's a low scoring first half that opens up in the second half. Dallas gets FG's. The Packers get TD's. Plainly stated - this game is won inside the 30 yard line. Not necessarily even in the Red Zone. But, inside the 30. Both teams move the football. Both teams offer bend, but don't break defenses. Unlike the regular season contest, this time, Rodgers is up to the chore.

Cook goes over 100 yards and scores 2 TD's. Allison has 4 big catches.

We're going to the NFC Championship.

Packers 31
Cowboys 26

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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